WOU institute hopes to be a hub for deaf-blindness education

Statesman Journal
By Joce DeWitt
October 13th, 2013


Thanks to a $10.5 million grant that will come over the next five years, the Teaching Research Institute at Western Oregon University hopes to establish itself as the central hub for knowledge and resources for education of youths suffering from deaf and blindness.

The institute received the federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs to operate the National Center for Deaf-Blindness.

Director Jay Gense said the center has been in operation at WOU for years and was well-poised to receive the grant.

“We’re thrilled, of course,” Gense said.

The center in Monmouth is the only one for deaf-blindness funded by the Department of Education, which, for Gense, only makes the award sweeter.

That it’s based in Oregon is cool; that it’s based in WOU, a small university compared to other state universities, is unique, he said. “Just the fact it’s really here is pretty amazing.”

The center at WOU will act as the core of a national network of deaf-blind resource programs located in every state.

“It’s an infrastructure that kids and families and those that serve them have access to research and expertise no matter where they are,” Gense said.

According to information released by Western Oregon University, there are 10,000 infants, children and young people across the country living with deaf-blindness and only 70 in Oregon. Almost 90 percent of those have additional disabilities.

There are fewer cases of deaf-blindness than any other disability in the United States, which leads to isolation for children who do live with it

“There literally are more school districts in this country than kids who are deaf-blind, which means there aren’t a lot of people who know what they need to know to educate these kids,” Gense said.

Still, there’s been a positive cultural shift in the past 10 years. Instead of sending children to far-flung schools, they are receiving education locally.

Therefore, two of the center’s priorities are to make sure children are not isolated and to leverage resources: If there are resources or knowledge available in one state, there is no reason to duplicate it in another, Gense said.

Most of the grant money from the Department of Education will go to paying staff who are stationed across the country.

The center at Western Oregon University also houses the Helen Keller National Center and Perkins School for the Blind.

Success for the center equates to every one of the youths living with deaf-blindness having access to full educational opportunities.

“This is all about ensuring that every kid has resources that he or she needs in order to be educated in the community,” Gense said.

The center’s first order of business is to set up a meeting with the Department of Education to negotiate the details, Gense said. Although the meeting was originally scheduled for next week, it cannot take place while the federal government is shutdown.

The Teaching Research Institute hosts seven centers focused on educational and human service systems to improve quality of life. It has been at WOU for more than 50 years.

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